First law student to compete in national competition represents School of Law

The best way to beat a hacker is to think like a hacker. And as Richard Bryant discovered, it also helps to know how to think like a lawyer.

Bryant, a third-year student at the University of South Carolina School of Law, became the first-ever law student to be accepted to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers Battelle CyberAuto Challenge. In July 2016, he—along with automotive and government engineers, ethical “white hat” hackers, and other students from across the globe and from many disciplines—spent a week working on ways to make today’s cars safer by hacking into and exposing potential vulnerabilities in their computer systems.

He was encouraged to apply for the competition by law professor Bryant Walker Smith, who is a widely-known expert in transportation law, specifically in automation and self-driving cars. Smith has been involved in the competition for several years and says it hones important skills that are essential to future lawyers.

“The practice of law involves much more than just law. Lawyers need both technical knowledge and technical humility. And they need to be able to translate technical and legal concepts in a way that lawyers, engineers, and the public at large can understand,” says Smith. “After getting to know him in class, I knew Richard would excel in the competition and would represent the School of Law well.”

“Although I have not had any formal technical education—my bachelor’s degree is in economics—the intersection of technology and law had been a growing interest of mine since starting law school, and the chance to meet and work with some of the country’s finest engineers, educators and up-and-coming students was a major draw,” says Bryant, who also acknowledged that his approach to the problems was much different from his fellow teammates and competitors.

“Being the first law student to participate was a big challenge. Trying to keep a legal perspective in an event that is designed to develop engineering skills wasn’t easy, but the skills I learned at UofSC Law, such as spotting issues and parsing data for key facts, started to become second nature.”

At the end of the week-long competition, Bryant again used his legal knowledge to deliver a presentation about responsible disclosure, outlining the legal ramifications of hacking.

“Bryant gave an outstanding talk to everyone involved—participants, organizers, and other attendees—on his reflections from the perspective of a law student. He did an excellent job of appropriately qualifying his remarks and targeting them to such a diverse audience,” says Smith.

It’s an opportunity Bryant recalls as invaluable and the culmination of his law school education. He says it taught him more about a lawyer’s job to interpret between groups of people, especially taking highly-technically information and turning it into something much more understandable.

“Throughout law school I’ve been told, ‘You’re going to have to get your hands dirty to get the job done,’ and that’s exactly what I took away from the CyberAuto Challenge,” Bryant says. “It was a great experience, and I’m so thankful to Professor Smith for thinking of me, and recommending that I apply.”

The 2017 SAE Battelle CyberAuto Challenge will be held in August. A similar competition, CyberTruck, will be held for the first time this year. Including a dedicated military component and a longer vehicle assessment period, the competition also requires participants to have a higher technical background.

For more information about how to get involved, contact Professor Smith.